FERPA and college campus reporting

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law protecting the privacy of certain student educational records. The law went into effect in 1974, and it applies to any public or private school that receives funds from the U.S. Department of Education. This includes, but is not limited to, local school districts, charter schools and institutions of higher education.

Know Your Rights

FERPA gives parents the right to inspect and review records maintained by the school. These rights transfer to the student when he or she turns 18 or enrolls in an institution of higher education. Parents and students have the right to request corrections on records they allege are inaccurate. If the school decides not to amend the record, the parent or student has a right to a formal hearing. If the school decides not to amend the record after the hearing, the parent or student may attach a statement to the record asserting their view on the contested information.

What’s Covered

Generally, only parents and eligible students have the right to obtain records containing identifiable information, such as grades, disciplinary records and learning disabilities. Schools are required under FERPA to receive written permission from the parent or student before releasing this information to other parties. However, school officials, financial aid administrators, individuals marshalled by lawfully issued subpoenas or judicial orders and other exceptions are exempt from this rule.

What Can Be Released Without Written Consent

Schools can release directory information (e.g., name, grade level, photo, etc.) to a requestor, but FERPA requires them to notify the students or parents in question and give them time to respond. Also, schools can release sensitive data about students in an aggregate form, as long as the information released is untraceable to a specific student or subset of students. Additionally, FERPA does not apply to student law enforcement records, employment files or records from which all personally identifiable information has been removed.

How to Contest  FERPA

The U.S. Department of Education administers FERPA, so although state educational entities are subject to FERPA rules, the Texas Office of the Attorney General does not settle FERPA disputes or other issues with its regulations. If a parent or student issues a complaint asserting that protected records with too much personally identifying information were released without their consent, the Family Policy Compliance Office may look at the specifics of the incident and request relevant records to determine a course of action. 

If you’re a parent or student requesting personal information, you can request access from your school’s recordkeeper using FERPA. Under the law, the school or district has 45 days to produce the records you are requesting.

If you’re a reporter seeking non-confidential or redacted records from a school system, under the Texas Public Information Act you can make a public information request to the school or school district’s custodian of records. If the school intends to try to withhold the information under an exception in the Public Information Act, it must, within 10 business days of receiving the request, appeal to the Texas Office of the Attorney General. In the case of FERPA-covered information, the attorney general will not rule on release of the information. The information would be governed by the Family Policy Compliance Office in the U.S. Department of Education.

As a student reporter, familiarize yourself with FERPA provisions and learn about workarounds for misguided FERPA claims.

Sources:
U.S. Department of Education
Cornell Law School
Texas Attorney General’s Office